What Philly neighborhood should we move to?
May 13, 2021 8:44 AM   Subscribe

We're moving to Philly (from Brooklyn) by the end of the year. Help me figure out where we land!

You guys were very helpful when I wasn't sure where we wanted to move, and also when I was toying with the idea of moving to Baltimore. That remained the vague plan until last week when I got a job in Philadelphia. I am super psyched about this (the only reason Baltimore had an edge was that I have more fond personal feelings about it and the friends there are closer friends, but Philly is great and we have friends there too). We have the rest of the year to move down, because my new office is still virtual for now, but I'm slowly starting the process of thinking about where to live.

- Work is in Old City. I am not a morning person and while they're comfortable with me working 10-6, most of the office is 9-5 and I would sometimes have to be there for a 10 am meeting. So the commute needs to be quick, half an hour or less. Walk or public transit are both fine, but I'm not a confident enough biker for a bike commute.
- I really need to see a tree on a regular basis, ideally as soon as I leave the house. Most of my friends are in South Philly and it seems cool but very not green. I grew up in DC and am accustomed to urban spaces having trees and flowers, and it materially affects my quality of life when I'm not at LEAST close to a park.
- But not to the point of living in the suburbs!
- I'd like to be walking distance from at least a couple coffee shops, a place you can get a good cocktail, and a place you can get a good beer. I'm hoping we'll be going to those places by the time I'm settled.
- I prefer a more diverse neighborhood but I'd like to balance that with not contributing overmuch to gentrification (i.e. I'd rather become part of an existing community rather than live in one of those boxy new-construction condos full of white people).
- I do have a fondness for converted buildings though. I love a church conversion sorry about it!!!! A friend has been sending me a lot of converted apartment buildings in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, but my sense from other friends is that Fishtown is mostly gentrifier boxes.
- I have a very hard time with meal planning/big grocery shops and prefer to just go out and buy dinner ingredients before dinner. This is easier in some neighborhoods than others. I've been told for instance that West Philly has a limited number of walking-distance grocery stores.
- I think we may have to buy a car? So if parking wasn't UTTER nonsense that'd be good. If we're near a lot of public transit that'd be better.
- We're currently paying $2450 for a two-room apartment (one tiny bedroom, one combined living area/kitchen) with a dishwasher but no closets. We would like to spend ideally less than that, and certainly no more, for a 2br with the appropriate trimmings. (Like closets.)
- Eventually I want to look into buying a house or apartment, once we know the city better. If we are really happy in the neighborhood where we've landed I'd love for home prices to not be sky-high so we can stay there. (Assuming the market normalizes a little by then.)
- My spouse also mentioned safety, which is never my first thought but certainly nice to have! Much more interested in "engaged community" safety than "lots of cops" safety.

I know this is a lot of specifics and nowhere will be absolutely perfect! I'm psyched about Philly and happy to hear about your enthusiasms about your neighborhood even if it doesn't exactly match what I've described above.
posted by babelfish to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Take a look around Mount Airy, and also Roxborough/Manayunk. Decent transit options for work, greener than South Philly, good housing options for less than you're paying now, although the market is generally tight all around the city. Mount Airy especially can be super walkable depending on where you land. Housing stock in both neighborhoods runs toward the good ol' original brick and stone. It's true that Fishtown/NoLibs is turning into basically shipping containers stood on end. It's a weird vibe.

I don't know the eastern end of the Market/Frankford Line very well, but Frankford might be worth a closer look for reasons of transit accessibility. You also have Pennypack Park nearby and woven through the neighborhood. At some point the Northeast starts to dribble out into sprawl that will be less interesting to you.

Congratulations on the new job, and good luck with your move!
posted by sockshaveholes at 9:06 AM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of neighborhoods would be a pretty good fit. I can elaborate more later if need be (tight on time right now), but a few suggestions:

(1) Washington Square West: historic, leafy, supremely walkable, some of the cutest cobblestone streets in town, super urbanist/mixed use so coffee shops abound below apartments, etc. Also very central, so extremely convenient for most places in Center City. I always recommend this neighborhood, and I think it's worth you looking into. One of the big draws, from your perspective, is six grocery places within 5-20 minutes' walk (Mom's Organic Market, Whole Foods, Acme, Italian Market, that massive pan-Asian supermarket on Washington and 12th, and Trader Joe's). Walkable to Old City in about 25 minutes. I'd say it's largely white but fairly diverse, and with still a fairly large gay presence (used to be the gay neighborhood): you might have issues with the gentrification (which you might everywhere downtown in Philly).

(2) Society Hill: This also feels very leafy and pretty and historic - greener than Wash West, I'd say. Significantly closer to Old City, too - very easy walk to work. Biggest downside for you is fewer grocery stores, but there is an Acme in Society Hill, and there are others not too far if you're willing to walk a bit further. But if you have a problem with gentrification and lack of racial diversity in Wash West, I think Society Hill is worse.

(3) Fairmount: A bit further, but also historic and fairly leafy, and the park's right there. The enormous new Whole Foods is super convenient to Fairmount, and the Trader Joe's on Market is not inconvenient. Could probably get to work in Old City in half an hour walking?

(4) I'd look at some of the northwest neighborhoods (Mount Airy, etc.). These will involve taking the train in each day. They'll be cheaper than the Center City options. They're known to be very leafy and also some of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city. If that's something you want to prioritize, you should definitely have a look. Don't know about grocery access, and everything's going to be a bit more spread out.

(5) Queen Village: Neighborhoody, pretty, walkable, some corner pubs. I believe this used to be working-class white (?), but, like everything in Center City, is now pretty expensive. More space for your money than above South Street, though, often.

(6) This is probably out of your price range for a 2-bedroom, but I'd look at Rittenhouse - specifically, the streets below Rittenhouse Square (around the square itself you mostly get expensive and uninspiring high-rises). Some very pretty apartments in old Victorians, and the streets are gorgeous and leafy. I think Rittenhouse has always been expensive, so no gentrification per se. Worth seeing if any apartments are in your budget. Grocery store access okay (the Trader Joe's on Market Street).

(7) I wouldn't rule out Old City itself. It can have a just-out-of-college vibe, in places, but there are lots of cool rehabs and conversions, and some really nice streets (including the famous Elfreth's Alley).

Neighborhoods I think WON'T be a great fit for you include:

- Northern Liberties/Fishtown: Sorry. As sockshaveholes says, it has a weird 'shipping containers stood on end' vibe, and for me, it needs a whole lot more trees. It's also mostly filled with "drywall dreams", as my husband puts it: to me, it doesn't have much character at all, although obviously many like it. I find it feels a little creepy, how soulless it is. It's also synonymous with gentrification - it's hipster central.

- South Philly: This has good grocery store access and is still fairly heavily working-class white (Italian etc.). But it doesn't feel very green and isn't especially convenient for your work.

- West Philly: Green and racially diverse (although gentrification), but I've heard the grocery access is poor (I think there might only be that one grocery store by Penn, and wasn't there debate about that leaving?). It's also not dense enough for my taste, although opinions differ.

- North Philly: Most of north Philly is full of concrete, too few trees, and not especially walkable.

- Graduate Hospital: Not much character, too few trees. You get more space for your money, and sometimes a private garage. But not optimal access to grocery stores, not as walkable as some neighborhoods, and I think not green enough for you.

If you have more questions or want clarification on anything, just shout.
posted by ClaireBear at 9:23 AM on May 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm going to disagree about the lack of convenience / green space of South Philly. From Pennsport (east of Broad), Old City is a 15-minute bus ride or 10-minute bike (I know you say you're not confident on a bike, but living in Philly will make you so. It's so flat! And there are so many secret car-free shortcuts!)

And as for green space, it can feel a little gritty, but at your budget, you can get a good apartment in South Philly right on a park.
posted by catesbie at 10:57 AM on May 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just gotta add some info about my city:

West and South Phila are both very large, diverse areas. West Philly goes way beyond Penn campus, is very residential and has several grocery stores. I live in West Phila, really like it, and have a 15-20 min commute to center city by trolley. Lots of trees.

South Philly is also a large and diverse area. Once known for Italian Americans, that's still a part of it but it is very diverse with a large SE Asian community, Mexican-American community, and African American as well. There are several mini-neighborhoods within "south Philly", as is true of "west Philly". South Philly isn't as green as West but can be walkable to Old City and has some of the best restaurants in the city

I grew up in Mt Airy, which is a beautiful neighborhood, but commute to Old City by public transit would be a little more than 30 minutes (not too much more, though; although the regional rail train schedule there is not super convenient).

I'd look at more affordable areas of center city, areas of south philly next to center city (it's adjacent), and perhaps west philly and fairmount.
posted by bearette at 11:00 AM on May 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

We live in East Falls which is just a little closer to the city than Manayunk. Lots of trees and similar feel to Mt Airy. From the East Falls station it's 12 minutes to Jefferson Station via regional rail, from there you could get to Old City a variety of ways.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:04 AM on May 13, 2021

I didn't see it mentioned, but there is the patco train from nj to center city, current first stop 8th&market which is a quick walk to old city. It runs frequently enough that it's closer to subway frequency than Amtrak.

Collingswood/westmont/haddonfield are all well liked, have plenty of green and also walkability. Collingswood and haddonfield are.known for their downtowns, but are dry (well, there's a brewery in each and a winery, but no cocktails). Housing is very tight around here right now though.

You might also look Into areas in Camden & around further outlying patco stations.

For philly anywhere along the market frankford El will get you to old city quickly.

I was going to suggest the Clark park area of west Philly for greenery in the city. You would take the trolley to connect to the el. Which is pretty frequent.

As others mentioned, Washington square west and Rittenhouse are lovely parks too, but ritzier areas.
posted by TheAdamist at 11:10 AM on May 13, 2021

FWIW (probably minimal) I worked from '83 to '97 at 5th & Market Phila (right near the Liberty Bell). I took the Patco High Speed Line from the Westmont station (which stops at Collingswood next). I drove to the train station from my home in South Jersey. The train left me off underground at 8th & Market and I climbed the stairs and walked the 3 blocks pretty quick (I was much younger).

From your well detailed question my guess would be that NJ wouldn't hit your "half hour or less" commute stricture, unless you made a science of the train schedule or decided to budget tolls, monthly parking, car loan and maintenance. But I could be wrong.
posted by forthright at 11:48 AM on May 13, 2021

Response by poster: A few people have mentioned options outside the city so I just want to mention that I am definitely looking to live in the city!
posted by babelfish at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2021

Babelfish: just to clarify, are you hoping to live anywhere in Philadelphia, or specifically in Center City itself? Philadelphia's boundaries are very far out on the NE side especially, so it might be helpful to get a sense of how far out or in you'd consider, or whether you care.
posted by ClaireBear at 12:24 PM on May 13, 2021

Response by poster: That's a good question! I guess I'm only really familiar with Center City, South, and West; I hadn't thought very far to the north. I'd be okay with a place that was further out from Center City if it had a sense of density and a doable commute. I stayed in West Philly last time I was there and loved it even though it felt less urban, but I'd want to be near a main drag (we were staying close to Baltimore Ave.) so it didn't feel too suburban.
posted by babelfish at 12:42 PM on May 13, 2021

Clairebear had a lot of great comments.

I live in Society Hill so I can add a bit more detail on it

-The greenest neighborhood in center city which is one of the reasons that my wife and I chose to live here. This is not only in terms of trees but window boxes, potted plants in front of houses etc.

-Not at all diverse in terms of residents but it doesn't quite feel like that when you are walking the streets due to the proximity of South St, Spruce St Harbor park and other things that draw in people from all over.

-The gentrification process was pretty much completed decades ago and many of those people still live in the neighborhood (see below point on age) so you woudn't be pushing anyone out

-Very residential unlike Wash Sq. West and many of the other neighborhoods mentioned. There are a few blocks that have some stores and restaurants (primarily along 2nd St) but otherwise it is nearly entirely residential (plus churches). However, there are tons of restaurants, stores and shops within easy walking distance as both Chestnut St (one block north) and South St (one block south) are both major commercial corridors.

-Parking is somewhat easier than in most of center city but to avoid aggravation you would probably want to either have a place with parking or rent a spot from a garage or church

-The average age is definitely higher compared to a lot of the other neighborhoods. Many residents are 60+ with not many in their 20s. This may either be a plus or a minus for you

-Renting a 2 bedroom in your price range should be doable. Buying may be harder. It is one of the more expensive neighborhoods in the city but possible to find something if you are willing to accept less sq footage or a house that hasn't been recently renovated.

This may be more than you wanted to know but if you do have any other questions about Society Hill I would be glad to answer. I really do enjoy living here but you can't go wrong with many of the other neighborhoods mentioned
posted by nolnacs at 12:57 PM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

i spent 12 years living in center city, and while i left about 7 years ago, i 100% agree with clairebear's recs.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:40 PM on May 13, 2021

I lived in Queen Village for part of the time I worked in Old City and it was great. 15 min walk to work, lots of grocery stores in walking distance, neighborhood bakeries and things, plus easy to walk to the Italian Market and all the Mexican and Southeast Asian areas along Washington Ave. All varieties of restaurants at all price points. Close to the river, too, and not too far from the El. Lots of little parks and both places I lived had small yards. It's also easy to get to South philly if you have friends there, but has a ton more trees. I didn't have a car and didn't need one.

If you like lofts, Callowhill has a ton. Not that green, also a 15-20 min walk to old city, easy El and subway and train access. I grocery shopped at Reading Terminal when I lived there.

I'm in fishtown now and it has trees and cute old houses and the El, and also millions of shitty condos and.... Yeah. What everyone else said.

With that much to spend you'll have a lot of choices and shouldn't need to go for a gentrifying neighborhood.
posted by sepviva at 3:08 PM on May 13, 2021

I lived on a small street in the West Passyunk neighborhood in South Philly from 2015-2020 and worked out of a coworking space in Old City for a year before moving and wholeheartedly recommend it given your needs. Girard Estate or Newbold or Point Breeze would probably work for you too. The 17 bus is perfectly convenient, it's a relatively easy (and perfectly flat) bike ride, but I usually just walked the 3 miles in about 45 minutes, which took me through East Passyunk and right by several grocery stores, shops, cafes, restaurants...

It's massively cheaper than East Passyunk or anything north of Washington Ave. Like, the degree to which that's the case is frequently shocking to me-- it's a 10 minute walk to areas where the price for an equivalent house doubles. (Some of this is from school catchements.)
posted by supercres at 3:38 PM on May 13, 2021

Fairmount definitely ticks most/all of your boxes - green, main drag, transit (you would either walk or hop on the bus - 48, 7, 32, 33, 38, etc.), walk to Whole Foods, Target, two CVSes and two Rite Aids. I lived two blocks from the Art Museum, and while I dearly loved all the stuff that happens there (races, concerts, the pope, the NFL draft, etc.), it sometimes was...a lot. And parking was a DRAG. Like, we didn't need to drive much (walked to work, strollered the kid to daycare, walked to Whole Foods, walked to our dozen local haunts for dinner), but we knew if we went away for the weekend or even for the day, we had to be home by a certain time to get a spot, even when there was nothing going on. But, overall, a truly awesome place to live for 12 years.

I live in East Falls now, and it's lovely, too. No "main drag" like Fairmount Ave, Passyunk Ave (heck, even Germantown Ave in Chestnut Hill), but, I can think of three places to be your regular coffee place, and two to be your regular get-a-beer place (plus the Wissahickon Brewery, which does beer and food trucks and was KEY during the pandemic), super-easy access to two different commuter trains (depending which part of the neighborhood, both very quick to center city), a lot of green, close (ALMOST walking distance - again, depending which part) to Manayunk, which might scratch the main drag restaurant/bar itch. It's going to be cheaper than Fairmount, Society Hill, etc., but not contiguous - meaning, you can do stuff in East Falls, Germantown, Roxborough/Manayunk, but you need to get on the train/bus/car to go to center city, unlike some of the other neighborhoods, from which you can really walk/wander.

I'd be happy to answer any question about our awesome city!
posted by Pax at 6:03 PM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna plug my old neighborhood near the Art Museum/Ben Franklin Parkway. Easy access to the Schuylkill River Trail, very walkable as Pax mentions. Depending on where in Old City you need to be, you'd be right around a 30 min commute by bus. Don't bother with a car if you're living in Center City; the Parking Authority will make your life hell.
posted by basalganglia at 6:26 PM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

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